10 of the World’s Most Infamous Cults



Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh leads his disciples in a devotional ritual in 1984.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh leads his disciples in a devotional ritual in 1984.
Matthew Naythons/Liason/Getty Images

An untraditional Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh embraced earthly pleasures. He himself owned 93 Rolls Royces, and he promoted an indulgence in sex. In fact, his ideas were largely rejected in India itself, and he found larger followings in the U.S. and Europe.

Rajneesh began his congregation in India in the 1970s, setting up a headquarters in Pune in 1974. However, after facing increasing hostility there, Rajneesh moved to the United States in 1981 and soon purchased land in Oregon, where followers built their own city called Rajneeshpuram. Ma Anand Sheela, an Indian woman who helped organize Rajneeshpuram became a member of Rajneesh's inner circle. As Rajneesh no longer spoke in public, Sheela took control of daily operations in the city.

By 1985, Rajneeshpuram had more than 2,500 residents, but had become embroiled in local tensions. During the previous year, Sheela instituted the "Share-a-home" program, where the city bused in thousands of homeless people in order to register them as voters there in a failed attempt to influence the Wasco County court elections. Around the same time, Sheela and other leaders of the commune orchestrated the first bioterrorist attack in U.S. history by poisoning restaurant food in the large town of Dalles. In this attempt to reduce the voter population, they sickened 750 people.

In 1985, Sheela and other leaders fled the commune, and Rajneesh was deported for immigration fraud. Despite his death in 1990, Raneesh's movement still lives.